Irene Gilbert, Physical Therapy: San Francisco

Director of the Curriculum in Physical Therapy

Irene Gilbert was a woman of many talents: teacher, researcher, physical therapist, poet, musician, and artist. Some of these skills were founded in her childhood in Tennessee and North Carolina and continued through her professional life as forms of relaxation. She studied physical therapy at Stanford University in 1951 and practiced in hospitals and rehabilitation centers in San Francisco and Marin County.

Irene came to the Department of Anatomy at UCSF in 1959 as a graduate student to undertake work towards the master's degree. She felt that she required a deeper understanding of the basic medical sciences in order to improve her diagnostic and therapeutic skills. She was an industrious and enquiring student who soon decided to engage in a study of the intrinsic blood supply of muscles in the rat hand-limb--an area in which little research had been done. To this end she skillfully applied a variety of dissecting, injection, and histological techniques which resulted in the publication of a most informative thesis in 1961. In this, as on many other occasions, her artistic talent was used to advantage and the work is profusely illustrated with carefully executed pen and ink drawings.

For the next several years Irene worked as a physical therapist with the Visiting Nurses Association of San Francisco. In 1966 she returned to UCSF to embark on studies and research towards the Ph.D. degree. She had now decided to study muscle regeneration in the rat following injury to the soleus, a muscle she had investigated previously. A major problem with muscle regeneration is that new fibers are eventually overwhelmed by the growth of collagenous tissue. To overcome this she used D-penicillamine to reduce collagen formation. Her results were encouraging; new muscle fibers were more durable and survived for a longer time. Her doctoral thesis, A Study of Muscle Regeneration in the Rat, was published in 1972.

Following the retirement in 1970 of Margery Wagner as Director of the Curriculum in Physical Therapy, Irene was appointed as her successor.

Irene was then in the course of finishing her Ph.D. thesis. It is a tribute to her industry and commitment that she accomplished both undertakings so successfully. She dedicated herself to the development of the UCSF Physical Therapy Program to meet the demands of the growing health care field. With the future in mind she spearheaded major revisions in the curriculum. The new program was designed to prepare graduates who were well educated in the basic sciences, scientifically grounded, and prepared to provide clinical services, leadership, and collaborative research in the field of physical therapy. She was a staunch advocate for maintaining physical therapy education on the UCSF campus. She was also deeply committed to the development of a master's program at UCSF.

In spite of her heavy administrative duties Irene was the primary faculty for a two-course series entitled “Principles of Professional Practice and Administration,” and participated in two others: Neuroanatomy and Congenital Defects. The latter course was specifically developed at her request to provide physical therapy students with information on normal and abnormal human development that could help them understand defects later encountered in practice. She was a good teacher and greatly enjoyed imparting knowledge to others. Her artistic skill was used to great advantage on the blackboard and in the preparation of handouts.

Irene guided many new faculty members in the art and the craft of teaching and inspired a love of teaching in those around her. As she said, “there is information within the students' grasp but tantalizing to their reach.” She instilled in teachers and students alike a strong sense of ethics and responsibility to patients, colleagues, and the community. In addition to her work at UCSF Irene also served the American Physical Therapy Association for many years. This service to the community and to the profession is now being continued by the UCSF physical therapy graduates who are following her example with similar dedication. Irene emphasized self-respect and honesty above everything else; her advice was to remain true to oneself.

Irene Gilbert is remembered as a highly esteemed member of our faculty, an enquiring basic scientist, a dedicated teacher, and a compassionate physical therapist.

Mary A. Snyder Ian W. Monie Nancy N. Byl